The Parish School Blog

Q&A With “Giving Voice to Children” Luncheon Keynote Speaker, Ron Beghetto, PhD

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The Parish School is excited to welcome Ronald Beghetto, PhD, Professor of Educational Psychology, University of Connecticut, as the Keynote Speaker for the 10th Annual “Giving Voice to Children” Luncheon on Oct. 4, where he will present “Uncertainty as a Catalyst for Creativity.”

In anticipation of his keynote address, we’ve been granted a special Q&A with Ron, where he reveals how he became an expert on creativity and a few take-aways from his upcoming presentation.

Q: How did you get interested in creativity?

A: I got started in creativity as a classroom teacher myself. I really didn’t think about creativity in a systematic way. It just so happened that I had a group of students that asked me to coach them in Odyssey of the Mind, which is a creative problem-solving program. I was just amazed at how the kids came alive and by their ideas. They went on to win the State Championship and went on to the world finals.

This experience rattled me that the same kids I see all day long can be so radically different after school than in school; and why can’t I bring that magic I was seeing into my everyday teaching. I just couldn’t figure out a way to do that as a classroom teacher. So, that got me interested in how we can infuse some of the creativity I saw in that program into the everyday classroom curriculum and give students the opportunity to do something that really matters to them.

ron beghetto creativity presentation
Q: How do you define creativity?

A: The definition of creativity that I have developed is “different and unexpected ways of meeting pre-existing criteria.”

In education, we are really good at establishing criteria. What we sometimes fall short on is providing different or unexpected ways of allowing students to meet those criteria. Creativity in schools isn’t about ‘thinking outside the box,’ it’s often really about thinking creatively inside the box because there are always restraints. How can students meet those restraints in new and different ways?

Q: Are people born with the ability to think creatively or is it a skill to be taught?

A: I really believe, and I think research supports this, that creativity is something that all of us already have. It’s not something that you have to give to students or something that can be taken away from students; it’s just a human capacity.

Q: How does participating in creative thinking in school – through legacy projects or project-based learning – benefit students who often require repetition and direct instruction to learn?

A: From my point of view, while there are a ton of different goals that we have as schools, most of us agree that the key goal is to prepare young people for the future, whatever their future projection might be. And the future is unknown. If in fact we agree on that, then how do we prepare kids for the unknown and give them opportunities to work through the unexpected? That is what my work is all about. Let’s give children opportunities to work through the unexpected in creative ways.  So a blend of repetition and uncertainty is necessary.  

My approach is definitely both/and. We don’t do enough of both. One example is swimming. You can practice the stroke for swimming outside of the pool but never have a chance to get in the pool. At some point, you have to get in the pool to swim. And water is the uncertainty. We have to have opportunity for both.

Q: How can parents support creativity at home?

A: It’s about listening to and watching for what kids are interested in and finding ways they can get involved in meaningful work. I mean, I think that is one of the problems we often face in schools. We have kids do things and the reason why is not very compelling. But if you’re reading this passage because you need the information for the problem you’re solving – like the garden you’re making, then you’re using it as a means to another end – that’s the key.

Ronald Beghetto TEDx presentation

Q: Your keynote address and parent education talks focus on uncertainty and beautiful risk. Oftentimes people think of uncertainty and risk as negatives. How do you see them as positive catalysts for creativity?

A: It’s important to clarify the difference between what I call “good uncertainty” and “bad uncertainty.” Bad uncertainty is when there is no clear structure, guidelines or criteria and kids aren’t sure how they can get help when they need it. So those pieces are missing. And on top of that, we ask them to do something creative. That becomes chaotic quickly and is frustrating for everybody.

Good uncertainty, on the other hand, is where we spend a lot of time clarifying what the expectations are and give opportunity for students to seek out help when they need it, but then give them opportunity to try doing things in their own way to meet those criteria.

There are also different types of risk. A “bad risk” is when the cost to you or others outweighs the potential benefits you can get from it. A good risk is more about you personally; when personal benefits to you outweigh the potential loss. But what I call “beautiful risks” are when the potential lasting benefits to others outweigh the potential cost to you. This is really about doing things that can make positive lasting contributions to others. A beautiful risk doesn’t have to be anything major. It can simply be sharing a new way of doing a task. And by doing so, you might make a lasting impact on the learning of others. So it’s important to help kids understand the different risks, provide opportunity for good risks and support them in taking those risks. The truth is, by taking good and beautiful risks together – that’s how you create a trusting environment.

Ron will also be joining us for two other special events hosted by The Parish School

  • Underwriter Reception (by invitation only) – Wednesday, October 3 at Hotel ZaZa Memorial
  • Adult Education Session (free and open to the public) – Thursday, October 4 at The Parish School, presenting “Supporting Beautiful Risks in Your Child's Learning and Life” (RSVP online)

Learn more about The Parish School’s 10th Annual Luncheon, purchase tables or tickets and see how you can hear Ron speak live in October at